Kelechi Iheanacho returned to Premier League action on Sunday, coming on as a substitute for Leicester City before contributing an assist and a goal to help the Foxes to a 1-0 victory over Everton.
The striker hadn’t featured at all in the league for the East Midlanders this season before the weekend, but served a reminder as to his enduring quality after Brendan Rodgers turned to him when in desperate need of a goal against the Toffees.
However, it may be that a permanent change of approach may be required by Leicester if they’re to get the best out of the 23-year-old.
At 1-0 down, Rodgers shifted his team’s shape to a 3-5-2 structure: Ben Chilwell moved to the left of a back three, Harvey Barnes played as a left wing-back, and Iheanacho partnered Jamie Vardy.
This one is for the fans the staff my team mates and my family thank you for been there for me ❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/BpnxF2iUkt
— Kelechi Iheanacho (@67Kelechi) December 2, 2019
This is perhaps the ideal situation for the former Manchester City man, and perhaps only way that you can get the Nigerian onto the field.
If he is used as a lone striker, he does not stretch the game enough as he comes short too often. He requires a mobile partner to pin back the opposition defensive line so that he can play off the front with his back to goal.
This approach in a 4-4-2 leaves a team too open in midfield, while in a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond, Iheanacho would have to work the channels too much.
3-5-2 is an ideal shape for the attacker, and it’s little surprise that his rare starts for Nigeria over the last 18 months have come when Gernot Rohr has opted for this formation, with Iheanacho used as a partner for Ahmed Musa.
Leicester were causing far more problems now that Vardy was working the channels and with Iheanacho was linking up with the two creative players behind him.
Youri Tielemans used the Nigerian for a wall pass but tried to cross from a good shooting position, while a later one-two with James Maddison set up the striker.
In this instance, he opted for a pass rather than striking at goal.
Iheanacho had already contributed an assist by the time the winner arrived, 94 minutes in, and after an intervention by VAR.
It showed the best of the striker – good close control and an excellent finish when curling into the far corner with his left foot.
There was still time for a strong tackle by Wilfred Ndidi, an early pass for Iheanacho to Vardy and a half-chance spurned by the league’s top scorer before the final whistle prompted celebrations across the King Power Stadium.
After the game, the game-winning substitute was quick to emphasise that he has been working hard in training every day. The insinuation there is that he did not do that enough in the past and only now is he winning Rodgers over.
— Christian Fuchs (@FuchsOfficial) December 1, 2019
Iheanacho will take the glory, and his involvement, at least from the bench, should increase in coming weeks.
However, it’s hard to see how Rodgers gets him into the starting XI without using a 3-5-2 shape.
Therein lies the dilemma facing the Nigeria striker at club and international level, where only a significant shift